Northern Ireland's first minister threatened to resign unless a judicial enquiry is announced into the letters of immunity issued by the Northern Ireland Police Service.

British Prime Minister David Cameron on Thursday responded, saying: "I agree with the first minister of Northern Ireland that after the terrible error of the Downey case it is right to get to the bottom of what happened. We should have a full independent examination of the whole operation of this scheme. We will appoint an independent judge to produce a full public account of the operation of this administrative scheme to determine whether any other letters were sent in error. The judge will have full access to government files and government officials. This needs to happen quickly and it will report by the end of May.”

He said: “These letters were not and shouldn’t be any form of amnesty.”

Talking to VoR about the immunity deal, Col Collins said: "It's unjust that soldiers should be pursued for events that happened in the distant past, 40 years ago. yet self-appointed murderers should be given a get-out-of-jail-free card."

He points out that the deal was made under the previous government, but that it should trigger a definite government response now.

"Now that this has come out into the open, I think it should be the signal for drawing a line under the whole Northern Ireland Troubles and start looking to the future," he told us. "It's futile wasting money pursuing these things if the government has made deals with murderers."

Investment should take the shape of spending money creating jobs instead of paying lawyers, he says.

Asked if there is a feeling in the Army that there is a sense of injustice, he said: "Absolutely, but then again they are servants of the Crown, they have no choice but to do as they're told. They were on duty, they did their best. Eight hundred soldiers were murdered, and 300 policemen. They certainly feel they've been dumped by the government."

Peter Hain has said the only way to secure the Good Friday agreement of 1998 and ensure that no more people should die was to make some difficult and potentially unpalatable political decisions.

"You have to take risks for peace, but there's a limit to that," says Col Collins. "The bottom line is that if that had to be done, then they had to spread the deal across to cinlude everyone in that conflict. It can't be lopsided - that can't be justice.

"But what's been done cannot be undone. The correct thing now would be for the prime minister to draw a line under the whole Northern Ireland conflict, declare that if inquiries into murderers are finished, then inquiries into everything should be finished and no more money should be spent on public inquiries. All these things have to be consigned to history."

Asked how this could work, he says that the right thing would be to take a look at "this shadowy deal the Blairites did and whatever date that starts, that's where you draw the line."

Although former prime minister Tony Blair is generally credited with being the man who brought peace to Northern Ireland, Col Collins says that: "Tony Blair signed the deal but the process, the risks for peace were taken by the (John) Major administration, a Conservative government."

He says that it was the right thing to do because the IRA was militarily defeated - something they are now admitting themselves. "They were so penetrated by police Special Branch. One in three of their members were Special Branch informants. They were not capable of carrying on their armed struggle or they would have carried on." 

(VoR)